Blog Post 3/20 Voting Fraud, How to Rig an Election

The articles by Campbell and Gist each contain examples of electoral fraud in places like Louisville and Adam’s County where issues of voter intimidation, the secret ballot, purchasing of votes, abuse of police authority, and many other methods of electoral fraud greatly disfranchised African Americans and other groups. In Louisville, specifically, manipulation by the ruling Democratic party in which democrats actively sought to thwart the republican vote or more directly the votes of African Americans, presented itself in the form of false registration, phantom voting by the support of police and firemen, and the theft of registration books by drugging individuals to name a few. In both Louisville and Adams County we see the effect of electoral fraud in disfranchising voters, however, what is worse for democracy? Fraud that adds to a candidate’s vote total or fraud that suppresses an opponent’s vote total?

My first inclination is to say that fraud which suppresses an opponent’s vote total is worse for democracy. A quote I found particularly interesting in Campbell’s reading is, “Reducing the turnout was as critical to stealing the election as was intimidating voters and falsely registering others.” (Campbell, pg. 280) However, both have the same desired effect of manipulating the vote and suppressing certain groups or parties to cater to another. Each method also equally infringes on the right of voters and the right to a clean and fair electoral process necessary for democracy. The Shapiro article, however, provides a good example of the use of election fraud in which Matthew Weaver added to the total of his vote by stealing personal information and committing identity theft in which he voted or re-voted on other’s behalves. It makes it difficult for me to say that one is definitively worse than the other, then, as I can see how both could be detrimental to democracy. Thus, I do not know which is worse, being kept from voting in which you completely lack a say in the election process, or having your identity stolen in which someone registers on your behalf to add to a candidates total or creates a false identity all together?

American Democracy and the Racial State 2-28-17

“The Abolition of White Democracy” by Joel Olson suggests that race and the construction of a racial state had largely influenced democratization in the U.S during the antebellum period. Thus, he looks at the mobs of this time and the riots they ensued as a reflection of the varying perspectives of democracy. Furthermore, he examines the role of democratic citizenship in racial terms suggesting that citizenship was granted to whites and further maintained the color bar. The author is therefore arguing that citizenship came to be defined in terms of white citizens and wholly disregarded black men and women. Moreover, he suggests that the whites had impeded opportunities for basic equality which in effect had greatly damaged the operation of democracy in the U.S. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the authors argument that race had been invented and ultimately structured through citizenship. Thus, resulting in the privilege of the white race. A primary component of citizenship, then, came to be the position that one holds in society. Slaves and women, therefore, were equated with non-citizenship whereas white men were “natural” citizens. Ultimately, then, the correlation between democracy and race can be defined by saying, “White citizenship represents the democratization of social status, extending it from the upper class to the masses by transforming it from a perk of wealth to a perk of race.” (Olson, pg. 44) Thus, Olson proposed that the privilege of the white citizen became an issue for democracy.

Defining Democracy in the Post-Revolutionary Era: Holton and Bouton Reading 2-20-17

The readings for today by Holton and Bouton seem to suggest that the economic situation of the early republic was one of great social and political dissension. Both articles attempt to divulge the tensions between the wealthy creditors or bond holding elite and the lower rural class or debtors. Holton specifically identifies the economic crisis of the Revolutionary war and the massive debt it ensued. Thus, he suggests that the creditors had begun to excessively tax farmers to the extent that their livelihood was no longer manageable. Therefore, rural families suffered immensely and oftentimes the familial unit was disrupted or even destroyed by the heavy burden of financial hardship. However, these farmers did not sit back and do nothing. Rather, they sought to resolve the issue of economic inequality by means of closing the courts, urging the assemblies for aid, pleading for the eradication of debts as well as governmental security, and the advancement toward paper currency. Thus, it seems as if the ruling elite were exploiting the farmers whose subsistence depended primarily upon agriculture, trade, and market exchange, through heavy taxation in order to resolve the war debt. Similarly, the article by Bouton discusses the economic crisis with which the rural community is facing and examines the active opposition of these communities to the creditors. Thus, the farmers attempted to cease foreclosures and heavy taxes as they saw these economic restrictions to be an impediment to their political freedom. The elite creditors on the other hand, seemed fundamentally concerned with keeping the rural class down and stomping out any opposition toward their economic predominance.

Islam and Democracy, Theory and Practice 2-13-17

The readings for today have posited strong arguments for both the compatibility and incompatibility of Islam and Democracy. In his article, “Islam and Democracy: The Impossible Union” Taheri is adamantly opposed to the idea that Islam and Democracy can be in any way compatible. For him, there is a stark contrast between the equality of Democracy and the doctrine of Islam. Thus, he argues that the very term ‘democracy’ bares no meaning in the languages of Islam and consequently the history of Islamic tradition. Rather, there is a religious hierarchy among not only the religions of the world in comparison to Islam, but also within Islam among common Muslims and the religious elite. Moreover, only God is sovereign and therefore capable of ruling over man whereas Democracy governs the people by the people. Dr. Kendhammer’s “Muslims Talking Politics” however presents an array of information and support for both the compatibility and incompatibility of Islam and Democracy focusing explicitly on the relationship between Sharia and religious morality for effective government. Moreover, he constructs interviews with a diverse set of Sokoto residents in Nigeria to discuss the relationship between Sharia and Democracy to better understand the expectation of Democracy in these Muslim communities. Thus, he discusses the diversity of thought within Muslim communities concerning not only Sharia and Democracy but the varied interpretations of Islamic doctrine and religious morality as it pertains to government and its citizens. I, then, would suggest that the question is not so much whether Islam is compatible with Democracy but to what extent do we incorporate religion and religious morality into governmental policies? In other words, does religion play a role in government and where do we draw the line between religious ethical institutions and individual freedoms and liberties? Moreover, given the diversity of opinions surrounding this issue it is therefore important that we do not wholly generalize Islam but look to the specific context in which Democracy is desired and how to best implement the expectations and values of democracy which a society may be seeking.

Are there democratic preconditions? Modernization and Economic Arguments 2-6-17

Based on the readings by Lipset and Huntington I surmise that wealthier societies do have some advantage in crafting and sustaining stable democracies. However, wealth alone cannot ensure a democracy’s stability and success. Rather, it seems to me that a variety of social and political institutions are necessary for the success of a democratic nation. Thus, while wealth has its advantages, it is not a fix all. The article by Lipset suggests that a stable democracy encapsulates particular social systems such as economic development and legitimacy. However, the social conditions with which these systems arise or fail to arise is multifaceted. Lipset argues that there are four general factors of stable democracies, “… industrialization, urbanization, wealth, and education.” (Lipset, pg. 80) Within his argument, I found the role of literacy and democracy to be most convincing. In other words, he suggests that education improves an individual’s ability to implement democratic values and to abstain from extremist ideologies brought forth in politically illegitimate societies and isolated social groups. Thus, the argument can be made that education and improved literacy requires some form of economic development and stability. At the same time, however, political, economic, and social inequality can arise within a society that has an unequal distribution of wealth and political authority. In other words, the “lower strata” as Lipset puts it, may be overpowered by the dominant wealthy class. Thus, this is a circumstance in which wealth could promote instability rather than act as a stabilizing mechanism for the institution of democracy. Furthermore, Huntington continues this idea of the need for political legitimacy and an effective bureaucracy, if democracy is to be successful. Moreover, he suggests that there is a relationship between the inequalities within the economic and political realms. In other words, “Countries with underdeveloped economies may have highly developed political systems, and countries which have achieved high levels of economic welfare may still have disorganized and chaotic politics.” ( Huntington, pg. 2) Moreover, he makes the case that development/ modernization perpetuated social and political instability by devastating preexisting political authority structures and thus causing illegitimacy. In other words, he argues that the development of political institutions have been neglected in light of the growing concern for the development of the socio-economic sphere. Thus, he suggests that this process has damaging effects on the stability of democracy. I found both of these arguments to be equally convincing especially in terms of the importance of legitimacy within the political system.

What’s a Democracy That’s Not a Democracy? 1-30-17

After reading the articles by Zakaria, Levitsky and Way, and Diamond, in regards to illiberalism, authoritarian regimes, competitive authoritarianism, and the importance of free and fair election, I surmise that hybrid institutions are in fact reminiscent of stable autocracies and therefore are not making progress toward democracy. However, my assessment is arguably a result of my Western perception of democracy. Until reading Zakaria’s article I admit that I did not know there was a fundamental difference between constitutional liberalism and democracy. Perhaps, then, I take for granted that our democracy has constitutionally inalienable rights. Zakaria asserts that more than fifty percent of the world’s countries are in fact democracies; however, he makes a conscientious effort to say that “… half of the “democratizing” countries in the world today are illiberal democracies.” (Zakaria, pg. 24) Thus, democracy and constitutional liberalism do not necessarily go hand in hand. Rather, it is less likely that democracy will bolster constitutional liberalism and more likely that democracy arises from liberalism. However, Zakaria suggests that a democracy devoid of constitutional liberalism can potentially wreak havoc and produce overpowering authorities. My basic claim for these hybrid institutions being more like stable autocracies is that a prominent theme among them appears to be an abuse of power and corruption which denies individuals free and fair election as well as equal participation. This is where Levitsky and Way’s concept of an “uneven playing field” comes in. Given our evolving definition of democracy I would say that these hybrid institutions deny the basic tenants of democracy and thus lean more toward autocratic authoritarian institutions. Nevertheless, I give leeway to my argument in regards to the democratic or undemocratic nature of hybrid regimes, as my mind is not yet made up.

How Do We Know Democracy When We See It?

After reading Dahl’s in depth analysis of both the historic origins and the fundamental values associated with democracy I would say that it is important how we define this term as it is contingent upon the environment in which it is constructed. In other words, Dahl makes a substantial point that democracy has been invented and reinvented cross culturally over centuries following its emergence in ancient Greece. In constructing definitions of the characteristics indicative of democratic values Schmitter and Karl seem to be in relative agreement with Dahl in describing democracy as a set of human rights and values which secure self-rule, accountability among leaders and citizens to follow laws voted on by the people, opportunity for participation among all adult citizens, the protection of social, civic, and economic life, as well as representation and so on.

Moreover, they agree in some form that democracy certainly has its limitations. To this end, Dahl makes a case for the difference between “ideal” verses “actual” democracy which suggests that there is a marked difference between the ideal values of a democratic society and the implementation of those values through political activity. Nevertheless, a fundamental tenant of democracy whether ideal or actual is the necessity for equal access and opportunity in the political sphere. Both agree that democracy is a far better alternative to autocracy and Dahl goes as far as to suggest that “Democracies prevent abusive autocracies.” (Dahl, pg. 48) In regards to “thick” verses “thin” definitions of democracy I would say that I favor a “thick” definition as opposed to a “thin” or rather ambiguous explanation of democracy. Thus, I would come down on the “thin” side because of the point that Dahl set forth in regards to “ideal” verses “actual” democracy. That is, it is one thing to define democracy by its broader institutions and it is another thing to give weight and determination to those institutions by first defining and then implementing those values. Thus, you could say that a component of democracy is the election of officials and the right to vote, however, who this includes and how it will be upheld is what is most important.